Originally created 09/07/98

Democrats join ranks of GOP



ATLANTA -- Thumbing a well-worn Bible displayed like a trophy on his Senate desk, Sonny Perdue says he didn't abandon the Democratic Party. "It abandoned me, by God."

President pro tempore of the Georgia Senate, a lifelong Democrat at the height of his political career, Mr. Perdue announced April 13 that he would forever be a Republican. Across the nation, he was the 367th Democrat in political office to switch parties since President Clinton took office.

Proudly and frequently updated, the Republican National Committee's party-switching list is now 374 ex-Democrats long -- and growing.

Switching from Democrat to Republican isn't just because of ideology and anti-Clinton sentiment. Often, it's a matter of political survival. Some switchers are fueled by greed or anger. And many finally decide to shed outdated traditions, no longer calling themselves Democrats just because granddaddy did. It can be a huge mistake: The change has derailed more than one political career.

But when examined collectively, the explosion of party switchers gives Republicans reason to believe they are solidifying their new-found majorities.

Democrats acknowledge that an increasingly conservative American electorate has helped Republicans make numerical gains, but they believe the influx eventually will help create a more extreme GOP.